The government had little option but to kill off the process of appointing a Chief Technology Officer. It had not only blown away the political career of Clare Curran but has severely damaged the credibility of the government, not least the prime minister’s.
For National it has been a gift which keeps on giving. There’s almost certain to be some more unpleasant revelations to come from the emails between Curran and the PM’s “friend”, Derek Handley. Though they may take some time to emerge into daylight, these will prolong what is a disgraceful saga, one which has few parallels in the history of state-sector appointments.
Megan Woods drew the short straw to make the latest announcement on the debacle, which of course was made on Friday, just before the weekend. This continues the not-so-subtle technique being played out in recent weeks as the government tries to minimise in terms of publicity the damage it has been doing to itself.
Few would have noted the irony of Woods bemoaning a couple of days ago the energy hardship of 103,000 households (and doing nothing about it) but apparently enthusiastically paying out $100,000 to a millionaire for doing no work at all (plus $7500 for “set-up” expenses— which would go a fair way to cover his recent overseas holiday).
The government, would you believe, is now “re-thinking” the objectives of the CTO role. Wasn’t it a key feature of its election policy?
Woods says: “What’s clear is that we need to step back and have a good look at the role and see how it fits in with the other work being done in the digital transformation space”
So much for the hopes of those who for several years have pointed to the urgent need of getting to grips with how technology, with all the implications of artificial intelligence and robots changing the nature of work, will be re-shaping the future.
Point of Order – in an earlier post – cited Juha Saarinen in the NZ Herald writing about NZ techies having a meltdown that people who don’t do technology—that is know how to code, set up and operate computer systems and networks—are being considered for the CTO role. (Does he mean Derek Handley?)
He made the point the government needs someone who can engage with the free and open source software community, and explain to the government why breaking encryption for surveillance is very dangerous at a technical level.
Saarinen points to 2014 quote by Xero founder Rod Drury:
“How does the government, without deep technology expertise, engage in sorting out the vested interests, and overwhelming information flow, in order to come up with a step-change plan to transform our place in the world?”
Woods says Derek Handley was offered the role and
“ … we are honouring the agreement we had with him. This decision in no way reflects on him as a candidate and the State Services Commission review shows that the process was suitably robust.
“Derek showed energy and passion for the development of a digital strategy for New Zealand. However as the new Minister I have asked officials to review the CTO role and provide advice on the best ways to drive a forward-looking digital agenda for New Zealand.
“What we know is that the CTO role in its current form has significant overlaps with the Research, Science and Innovation portfolio and the Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media portfolio, as well as other roles like the Government Chief Digital Officer. We want to make sure that, whatever approach we take to achieve digital transformation in NZ, we get it right, and aligns with other work the Government is doing.”
National’s State Services spokesperson, Nick Smith, says the process around appointing a CTO has been a shambles from the beginning. It involved secret meetings and emails, the resignation of Minister Clare Curran and now the government is paying Derek Handley around $100,000 for a job he never even started. He says:
“The Government must now come clean with the hidden emails from Clare Curran and the Prime Minister so we know the full story of how badly this was handled. The CTO is the flagship of the Government’s IT policy and was budgeted to cost the taxpayer over $500,000 per year.
“Now if it still goes ahead we can add a pay out of over $100,000 because of the Government’s incompetence. The Government should apologise to taxpayers for wasting their money and Mr Handley for wasting his time.
“He’s right to have criticised the process for lacking in transparency. The CTO role has cost at least $100,000, a Minister her job and the Government its credibility. We can also add this to the Government’s ever growing list of reviews and working groups, currently more than 160 and costing $170 million.”
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